The onslaught of challenges can be daunting

Every baseball agent receives his share of late-night calls from clients who've just been released, demoted or dropped two spots in the batting order. Sometimes the phone rings with a more personal request: Maybe the player is having marital or financial problems and needs a few words of advice or support.

Peter Greenberg, a New York-based agent with 15 years in the field, has discovered that the bond forged through such interactions can be rewarding. Greenberg is godfather to Chicago White Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia's daughter, Sophia, and he was best man at the wedding of former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Carlos Garcia several years ago.

Since most of Greenberg's 65 clients come from Latin countries -- particularly Venezuela, where ballplayers have become convenient targets because of their wealth and fame -- he is also learning that athlete representation can take some dicey turns.

In November, Greenberg traveled to Venezuela for a jailhouse visit with pitcher Ugueth Urbina, who is currently awaiting trial for attempted murder. Outfielder Richard Hidalgo was shot and wounded during a carjacking four years ago, and several of Greenberg's clients or their relatives have endured some harrowing moments at gunpoint during robbery attempts.

"You'll get a call at 1 o'clock in the morning on a Sunday, and the player says, 'Cancel all my credit cards. My wallet was stolen,'" Greenberg said. "I used to deal with everything myself. Now that I have an office set up, it's a little easier."

Welcome to the ever-expanding landscape of ballplayer-agent relations. Last year, more than 200 major-leaguers, or roughly 27 percent of players on Opening Day rosters, came from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and other Latin American locales. According to Dr. Richard Lapchick's Racial and Gender Report Card, that's nearly double the 14 percent in 1991.

While big-league clubs do their best to ease the transition -- holding English classes for Latin players and schooling them on cultural differences -- the onslaught of challenges can still be daunting to a young ballplayer. That's particularly true for those with minimal education.

Enter the enterprising and globally-conscious wing of the baseball agent fraternity, where the "full service" concept resonates well beyond the norm.

Greenberg's agency, Scott Boras' group, SFX and Alan Nero's CSMG are among the agencies with extensive Latin American operations. Nero is active in Japan and other Far Eastern countries and represents a number of prominent Hispanic players. The list includes Cleveland's Victor Martinez, the catching Molina brothers and young Latin stars such as Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez and Cubs prospect Felix Pie.

Nero said the challenge for Latin players goes well beyond coping with a language barrier.

"Americans who are used to dealing in this country have no problem finding their own housing or renting cars or getting a cell phone," Nero said. "But for a lot of foreign players, every one of those minor tasks becomes a very significant challenge."

As teams invest more resources in mining talent from Latin countries, they've found that a strong support system is vital to helping players adjust to a new world. The initiative can take place on multiple fronts.

The Detroit Tigers have a director of Latin American operations, Manny Crespo, who ensures there's uniformity of instruction throughout the system. The organization's young Latin players are drilled on the same cutoff and relay plays that are used at Comerica Park.

Off the field, Laurie Soltman, the Tigers' coordinator of international player programs, makes sure that young players receive English instruction and helps them with the fine art of navigating supermarket aisles or ordering dinner in a restaurant. The Tigers also help young Latin players with the tax ramifications of their signing bonuses.

"You do the best you can to make the transition as easy as possible," said Al Avila, Detroit's assistant general manager. "It doesn't guarantee that a kid is going to make it, but it gives you a better shot if you help him along."

Agents often spring into action to tend to little things that slip through the cracks. Maybe it's helping players obtain visas or green cards or nurturing young players through the inevitable homesickness pangs.

Nero has two certified agents on his staff who can speak from experience. Melvin Roman, a former minor-leaguer, knows the landscape in Puerto Rico, and Will Polidor, the brother of the late big-league infielder Gus Polidor, has Venezuela covered.

Greenberg, a lawyer by trade, gravitated to baseball without the benefit of a playing background. His father was an international attorney and his mother was a native of Spain, so Greenberg learned to speak fluent Spanish during childhood summer trips to Barcelona.

In the early 1990s, Greenberg was working as a lawyer in midtown Manhattan when he decided to take a shot at the agent business.

"I wanted to be able to help Spanish-speaking players," Greenberg said. "Many come here when they're 16 years old. They don't know the language or the culture, and it's the first time they leave their home and their country. They're basically lost."

Greenberg's first client, Carlos Garcia, was a hot prospect with Pittsburgh 15 years ago. During their first meeting, Greenberg came prepared with his résumé
and a sales pitch. He planned to tell Garcia about his UCLA law degree and Phi Beta Kappa membership.

"Carlos didn't care about any of that," Greenberg said. "He just wanted someone he could trust -- someone who could call him and that he could develop a relationship with."

Garcia retired in 1999 and is currently the Seattle Mariners' third base coach, and he and Greenberg remain close friends.

Garcia recommended Greenberg to fellow Venezuelans Hidalgo and Edgardo Alfonzo. Then the word spread and Bobby Abreu, Carlos Guillen and Freddy Garcia came on board. Greenberg's group has since branched out to Panama and the Dominican Republic, among other countries.

Many standard agent chores are too mundane to make it into an episode of "Arli$$." Greenberg said young Latin players might be more inclined to forget to pay the gas bill or electric bill when the minor-league season ends, and the agent frequently steps in and sets things right before the collection agencies start calling.

During Carlos Garcia's tenure in Pittsburgh, he bought a gift for his wife at an upscale department store only to discover he had purchased the wrong size. When the language barrier became a problem, Garcia called Greenberg, who resolved the dispute with the sales clerk over the phone.

Sometimes, the stakes are considerably higher. Nero once represented a Latin player who had a common name -- so common, in fact, that he shared it with a known terrorist.

"Our guy showed up at immigration and they put him in jail," Nero said. "We were right there on the ground, so we immediately contacted the local authorities. I can't tell you how many times we're called on in the middle of the night to go rescue somebody."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" has been published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.